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Chapel Hill Transit is planning to purchase three new electric buses that run on batteries to reduce emissions and improve local air quality.

Thanks to $380,000 from a student-run group at UNC-Chapel Hill named the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee (RESPC), the transit system will be able to acquire a third electric bus as part of its plan to pilot the battery electric buses. The committee manages funds allocated by a student fee to plan and implement renewable energy projects.

“RESPC is excited to contribute to a project that supports the transition to electric vehicles, eliminating emissions and reducing environmental impact,” said RESPC Co-Chair Olivia Corriere. “We’re proud of all the students who helped make this happen.”

Renewable Energy Special Projects CommiteeAdditional funds for the $3 million project to pilot the battery-electric buses are from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the Chapel Hill Transit funding partners (Town of Chapel Hill, Town of Carrboro and UNC-Chapel Hill).

“Chapel Hill Transit has been a leader in North Carolina in using hybrid bus and bus related technologies,” said Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield. “We look forward to testing battery-electric buses and learning from our peers that are using similar technologies.”

“Moving away from diesel buses, combined with service improvements, will provide significant benefits to the communities we serve,” said Brad Ives, associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises and chief sustainability officer at UNC-Chapel Hill. “We are committed to becoming even more sustainable and resilient.”

Battery-electric buses offer zero vehicle emissions, quiet operation and better acceleration compared to traditional buses. They are expected to be in service 12 to 18 months after the order is placed in September 2019.

During the pilot period, Chapel Hill Transit will gain experience and data to help determine infrastructure needs to expand the battery-electric fleet. A feasibility study is planned for the use of solar to help power charging stations and energy demands at the Transit facility. Currently, one charging station is generally required for every two buses.

“Our funding partners are committed to sustainability, testing electric buses and improving transit options,” Litchfield said. “Through this pilot, we expect to eliminate vehicle emissions, reduce noise, reduce costs and train our transit workforce.”

Chapel Hill Transit plans to purchase both buses and charging stations. An electric bus currently costs about $1 million (this price includes vehicle acquisition, warranties, parts, training and after-market features), twice as much as a diesel bus ($458,944). While there are likely significant cost savings in reduced maintenance and fuel costs, those savings are realized over the life of a vehicle. While the cost of electric buses is expected to come down over time, there will be significant upfront costs.

More about Chapel Hill Transit’s Greening Fleet

  • Serving over 60 square miles, Chapel Hill Transit is the public transportation provider for Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC-Chapel Hill, and is the second largest transit system in North Carolina in terms of ridership. Chapel Hill Transit provides fixed-route bus services (30 weekday and weekend routes) and EZ Rider (ADA) services. Chapel Hill Transit provides more than 6.6 million annual rides and covers more than 2.5 million annual miles.
  • Chapel Hill Transit has a 93 bus fleet that includes 29 diesel-electric hybrid buses.
  • More than half the fleet has post-2012 emissions technology that uses selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to scrub nitrogen oxides and particulates from exhaust.
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